SAO PAULO (AFP) – Brazil’s ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva returned to prison last Saturday after being allowed to attend the funeral of a grandson who died suddenly at age seven.
Early in the day, the popular leftist leader stepped out of his cell in Curitiba – where he is serving two concurrent 12-year sentences for corruption – and then flew in a small plane to Sao Paulo, some 250 miles to the northeast.
A crowd at the Sao Bernardo do Campo cemetrey in a Sao Paulo suburb greeted Lula warmly upon his arrival for the service, shouting “Free Lula” and “Lula, warrior for the Brazilian people.”
Young Arthur Araujo Lula da Silva, whose father Sandro is one of Lula’s five sons, was felled by a sudden bout of meningitis.
As dozens of armed military police surrounded the area, the crowd of supporters at the cemetrey numbered perhaps 500, including Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff and Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party candidate for president in 2018. Hundreds of supporters wore the red color of Lula’s Workers’ Party.
At the crematorium room where close friends gathered before Arthur’s open coffin – and where Lula made brief remarks – there were flower wreaths from Lula’s political and trade union allies, even one from Venezuela’s embattled socialist president Nicolas Maduro, the daily Folha de S Paulo reported.
As Lula left two hours later, a grim expression on his face, he waved briefly to supporters and somberly shook a few hands before being hustled away by military police for the return back to jail, where he arrived some nine hours after his departure.
A federal court had ruled late Friday that the 73-year-old Lula could attend the funeral service.
Arthur, who had twice visited his grandfather in his cell in Curitiba, died last Friday in a Sao Paulo hospital.
Gleisi Hoffmann, the Workers’ Party leader, visited Lula in prison after he learned of Arthur’s death and said the ageing leftist was “downcast.”
“He cried several times and we tried to console him,” she said.
While news of Arthur’s death provoked sympathetic messages on social media – including from a former political foe of Lula, the head of the National Assembly Rodrigo Maia – a son of President Jair Bolsonaro sparked a controversy by criticising Lula’s release.
“Lula is an ordinary prisoner,” Eduardo Bolsonaro, a lawmaker in his father’s Social Liberal Party, said on Twitter.
“When a relative of another prisoner dies, is he escorted by the federal police to go to the services?”
He called the temporary release “absurd,” adding, “It only allows a high-profile thug to pass himself off as a victim.”